Pinning down actual years on films is a tricky endeavor. Some films travel film festival circuits and have limited theater releases well before they’re actually “out”. However, my list below contains the top 10 horror films that had a wide release in 2015, whether it was in theaters or through video-on-demand services.

10. The Visit [dir. by M. Night Shyamalan]:

There were so many terrific horror films that came out in 2015 that I had a very difficult time narrowing down my top ten. Some may be surprised by my inclusion of this divisive Shyamalan film, but it was between it and Del Toro’s Crimson Peak (you may now scream at your computer, aghast). Crimson Peak is the better, more cohesive and beautifully shot and wardrobed film, but it has not at all stuck with me the way The Visit has–and it could be argued that it’s not really a horror film. This just goes to show that imperfect films–and The Visit is about as imperfect as they come–can sometimes find their way into our subconscious and not let go. Plus, a Twilight Zone-style film about murderous grandparents has to make it onto The Dirty Deacon’s list. It’s a special kind of dark.

9. Ich Seh, Ich Seh, aka Goodnight Mommy [dir. by Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz]:

Normally, a film like Goodnight Mommy would be higher on my list because of its artistic technical aspects. Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz set the tone of the narrative well by shrouding the film in dark blues and grays while exploring the outside world of rural Austria and the inside world of the modern architecture of the main family’s house. It is not only a beautiful film to watch but a well-plotted one, finishing strong with an unsettling ending. The reason why it doesn’t scrape the top five is because I guessed the principal conceit about 30 minutes in. I was able to do so because there have been, at least, two other recent horror films that have used the same trick, one was Korean and then its American adaptation. Goodnight Mommy matches the Korean film in its beauty, but it ultimately felt a little derivative because of those plot similarities. It is still worth the time and money, though. And most won’t figure out the ending, since the two movie to which I’m alluding largely flew under the radar.

8. Maggie [dir. by Henry Hobson]:

If there is a “sleeper” on my list, it would be this Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle. I heard about this film at the beginning of the year and was surprised by spark of interest it ignited, considering how burned I had been by Schwarzenegger-led horror before (I’m looking at you, End of Days!). When I finally saw the film, I was pleasantly surprised at its subtlety and emotional core. Schwarzenegger plays the father of Maggie, who has been infected by zombies. He picks her up from the hospital and takes her back to their rural house where she slowly succumbs to being a zombie. What the film is not interested in is the action of zombie films, but the intimate horror of seeing a person you love change for the worse and, in Schwarzenegger’s case, knowing you’ll have to kill your own daughter when she finally turns. The film has a similar tone to the films of Jim Mickle (StakelandWe Are What We Are), who I have described, before, as the Sam Shepard of horror directors.

7. Bone Tomahawk [dir. by S. Craig Zahler]:

If you want to get me in the theaters to see a film, all you have to do is put Kurt Russell in the cast (The Hateful Eight!). So when this film came to my attention, I knew I was going to see it as soon as I possibly could. I also knew that there was some kind of horror element involved in its old school Western setting, but I didn’t know quite what it would be. This isn’t a spoiler because it’s in the description of the movie, but the horror element of the film turns out to be cannibals. For some reason Hollywood thinks that horror films set in the Old West should always involve cannibals because, I guess, other monsters/creatures are too “modern.” The brilliance of this film lies in its ability to be a damn fine Western and a truly startling cannibal horror film, especially in the back half of the film. I even flinched at one scene, which is rare for me. Even if horror or Westerns are not your thing, you should give this film a shot on the strength of Richard Jenkins’ acting alone, as he stole the show in every conceivable way. Of course,  Kurt Russell is still a blast and a joy to watch.

6. The Final Girls [dir. by Todd Strauss-Schulson]:

As far as independent horror goes, the two films that got the most press in 2015 were this film and We Are Still Here–which I also enjoyed. However, I found myself surprisingly engaged by this slasher deconstruction flick because of the heart that beats inside of it. The big question for slasher cinema after the Scream franchise was where do we go next? The Final Girls answers this question by following in the footsteps of Scream‘s self-awareness and meta-narrative, but, instead of being cold and often quite hamfisted, it sought out the reason why horror fans love slashers–even with all of their problems: misogyny, racism, etc.–and made its commentary on the tropes of slashers from a place of love and admiration. Not only this, but the central relationship between mother and daughter actually succeeds at being well drawn and touching, culminating in the best scene in the movie accompanied by Kim Carnes’ 80s classic, “Bette Davis Eyes.” Let me just say, that scene will give you ALL the feels.

5. Krampus [dir. by Michael Dougherty]:

I love Michael Dougherty, singularly, because of his 2007 horror anthology flick, Trick ‘r’ Treat. Horror anthologies are my favorite horror sub genre, and Trick ‘r’ Treat was a delightfully clever and complex example–a personal favorite even. So when I heard he was taking on the classic German anti-Claus, Krampus, I figured the film would easily slip into my top ten list. While it is no Trick ‘r’ TreatKrampus delivers dark holiday fare that is not afraid to have an edge to it, both in its humor and in the flow of the story. Dougherty definitely has a developing style that ties both of his films together, visually. There is enough creativity and quirk present in his films to be reminiscent of the dark, edgy family films of the 80s and 90s like Dante’s Gremlins or Raimi’s The Evil Dead. Krampus is not a perfect film by any means, but it is one hell of a ride and a nice variant on the usual ensemble Christmas fare, so well versed in derivative sentimentality–or as my favorite film critic, Mark Kermode, puts it: “that Christmas film.”

4. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night [dir. by Ana Lily Amirpour]:

So there are a number of things that make this brilliant little vampire film climb high up on my list. First, it is a Persian language film that takes place in an “Iranian ghost town named Bad City.” Already the film is striking a note of originality since there are so few horror films based in the Middle East, let alone Iran. The film is completely black and white and has enough of an arthouse feel in composition that it could easily be compared to some of the great classic horror films from the earliest days of cinema like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or The Golem. The black and white textures really make the film feel like it’s from another world. Lastly, I am always happy to see more diversity behind the camera and Ana Lily Amirpour delivers such a well shot film–rivaling any of the top three in technique–that she is now a name on my radar for future projects.

3. Creep [dir. by Patrick Brice]:

With the exception of the first Paranormal Activity, I’ve largely been underwhelmed with the “found footage” gimmick. It’s not so much that I hate the gimmick itself as I’m waiting for more films to use it in a way that doesn’t feel cheap. Creep finally delivered a found footage tale that got my heart pounding, particularly as the film hurtled towards its gruesomely silent finale. The film lives and dies on the performance of Mark Duplass (The LeagueSafety Not Guaranteed). Making a horror film, let alone any film, around one performance is risky and often divisive as far as viewers are concerned. Yet you’d be hard-pressed to argue that Duplass was anything less than stunningly effective as our awkward, intense, playful, but violent creep. While our surrogate, the film documentarian, Aaron, meets, befriends and falls into Josef’s (Duplass) web, somehow Patrick Brice is able infect the audience with the same uneasiness and increasing terror that his character feels. This film easily gave me my most visceral emotional response of the year.

2. What We Do in the Shadows [dir. by Jermain Clement & Taiki Waititi]:

Horror comedy is a hard sell. Something about getting the balance of intended scares and humor right with the flow of the narrative is a tough battle for most filmmakers. Very seldom does a film like Shaun of the Dead grace the silver screen with critical and popular acclaim along with a rabid cult status. While I don’t think What We Do in the Shadows will ever reach the heights of Shaun‘s success, it deserves praise for nearly matching its perfectly balanced sense of humor and horror. Jermaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords fame) along with Taiki Waititi create a mockumentary very much in the style of a Christopher Guest film about four vampires–each representing a different cinematic incarnation of the iconic ghoul–who are flatmates that live normal lives with bills, interpersonal conflict, and rivalries, while still aliens in a world full of flesh and blood waiting to be sucked. The gags are endless and range from cheesy to high-end Woody Allen-style schtick. The film delivers in just about every way a horror comedy could, making it a rare breed indeed.

1. It Follows [dir. by David Robert Mitchell]:

When the credits rolled on my first viewing of Mitchell’s second feature length film, I knew automatically that it would be my number one horror film of the year. This is the film I have thought about, written about and digested the most this year. It is technically beautiful and controlled in its composition, the acting is understated–especially the brilliant Maika Monroe. The score takes hints and influences from John Carpenter’s synth-heavy scores without being derivative (the soundtrack was my most listened to album of 2015!), and the meaning that can be drawn from the film is endless and broad. David Robert Mitchell has created an instant horror classic. Much like my #1 of 2014, The BabadookIt Follows is not satisfied with just being a horror film, but transcends its genre trappings to comment on everything from urban decay to Dostoyevsky to death and sex. The film greatly rewards repeat viewings. It has even converted a few of my non-horror watching friends over to the dark side for which I am very pleased. Of all of the directors on this list, I am the most excited about the future for David Robert Mitchell. He has put out two stellar films, and I cannot wait for the third.


Worst Horror Film of 2015: Treehouse [dir. by Michael G. Bartlett]: Please don’t. Just trust me on this one.